Sunday, 25 May 2014

Pakistan embarks upon Warehouse Receipt Financing plan

Pakistan is among the top producers of cotton, sugarcane and food grains, i.e. wheat, rice and maize. However, significantly large quantities of food grains and even larger percentage of fruits produced goes stale before reaching the market. This on one hand deprives growers of their rightful return and on the other hand does not allow the country to earn foreign exchange, needed most desperately for the economic growth.
In an attempt to help the farmers boost production and yield, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has embarked upon an ambitious lending program for farmers. Now the annual disbursement to farmers is inching close to Rs400 billion (US$ four billion). The endeavor is fully supported by insurance companies operating in the country.

This initiative has helped Pakistan in joining the club of wheat exporting countries. At the close of the current sugarcane crushing season, refined sugar output is likely to exceed 4.7 million tons with an exportable surplus of over half a million tons. The country is also likely to get nearly 13.5 million bales of cotton. Pakistan is already exporting huge quantity of rice, especially ‘Basmati’.

To further facilitate the growers, SBP has embarked upon Warehouse Receipt Financing (WRF). In this regard a framework has been prepared and various meetings of the stakeholders have been held. The central bank considers that development of WRF is inevitable for achieving food security, improving return to farmers, and above all saving the output that goes stale before reaching the market. This requires millions of dollars investment for the construction of well organized warehousing infrastructure, imposition of stringent grading standards and ensuring proper collateral management.

In this venture, apart from the central bank and commercial banks (both conventional and Islamic), the other key stakeholders include Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), federal and provincial governments, Pakistan Mercantile Exchange (PMEX), insurance companies, warehouse operators, collateral managers and farmers’ association. However, it remains a fact that unless modern warehouses are constructed in the country, this dream is not likely to become a reality.

While some of the ambitious planners believe that the entire infrastructure can be created within short span of time, others still have serious reservations, from availability of funds to construction of warehouses. It also requires  building confidence of all the stakeholders, particularly farmers, banks and insurance companies. The most encouraging point is that multilateral lenders have expressed their fullest support for the initiative. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the rationale and the proposed steps to be followed.

To begin with, one must have the correct information about production numbers and storage facilities. Pakistan produces nearly 40 million tons of different cereals annually, out of this wheat alone account for more than 25 million tons. As against this, there exists warehousing capacity of around 5 million tons. Storing grains in ‘technically unsuitable warehouses’ is the single largest reason for substantial quantities going stale or not being suitable for human consumption. As per various conservative estimates the losses to grains are between 15-20 percent and for horticulture (fruit and vegetables) is more than 25 percent. The province wise losses for grains at harvesting and in the supply chain were estimated in a study conducted by University of Faisalabad which elaborates as under:

Grain losses in storage

Aggregate Loss
Farm level
Market level
Public Sector
Consumer level

Source : Iqrar A. Khan. 2007. Vice-Chancellor, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad

There is potential for loss throughout the grain harvesting and agricultural marketing chains. For example:

  • During stripping of maize grain from the cob, known as shelling, losses can occur when mechanical shelling is not followed up by hand-stripping of the grains that are missed. Improper shelling damages the grain and make insect penetration easier.
  • For crops other than maize, threshing losses occur as a result of spillage, incomplete removal of the grain or by damage to grain during the threshing.
  • Losses also occur after threshing due to poor separation of grain from the chaff during cleaning or winnowing.
  • A wet season's paddy harvest may clog the screens and grain will be lost.
  • Wind, either natural or from passing vehicles in the case of road drying, can blow grain away. With high moisture content, grain is susceptible to mould, heating, discoloration and a variety of chemical changes.
  • Losses in stored grain are determined by the interaction between the grain, the storage environment and a variety of organisms.
  • In general, grain is not infested by insects below 17 °C whereas mite infestations can occur between 3 and 30 °C and above 12% moisture content. The metabolic activity of insects and mites causes an increase in both the moisture content and temperature of infested grain.

There might be various reasons like high cost of infrastructure, running expenses of storage facilities, adoption of technical know how. However, the major reason is the involvement of a number of players that include farmers, warehouse operators, federal and provincial governments, regulators, commodity exchange, banks, collateral managers and lack of a common platform. Therefore, to fill the gap, SBP has initiated to make available the common platform for all the stakeholders.

Despite the fact the SBP launched a subsidized financing scheme for construction of warehouses, silos and cold storages for storing agricultural produce couple of years ago, efforts have  remained focused on cold storages. This shows that the cost of financing is not an issue, but the main reason is putting in place a mechanism, from production to consumption to adopt the system.

The central bank wants to involve business community and financial institutions, including Islamic banks to realize the business viability and an opportunity to participate in a profitable business and at the same time contribute to a crucial sector in food security. Establishment of the system will enable the business community to unlock its assets to the investment, thorough Warehouse Receipts that provide the convenience of trade, endorse/exchange, finance and sell in local and international markets. This will also save the huge losses, if controlled can feed 10 million people.  In addition, this will facilitate in addressing the issue of access to finance for the farmers through warehouse receipts.

In line with international best practices like Brazil, USA, South Africa and Bulgaria, a centralized collateral manager can be made responsible for accreditation, inspection and monitoring of warehouses. The central bank intends to start a pilot scheme through one of the renowned international collateral managers  ACE Global Depository involved in this business for a very long time. Reportedly, ACE has established its office in Pakistan and also agreed to bring in its expertise and international storage standards to Pakistan. It has also a global Professional Indemnity Assurance.

Besides Professional Indemnity Assurance, SBP is also facilitating linkages between local insurance companies and collateral management companies to develop insurance products to deal with situations not covered under the Professional Indemnity Assurance. This will provide comfort to the depositor that they are secured from losses in storage. Once the WHR system is expanded, other collateral and warehouse managers will be interested to play an active role in Pakistan. Experts envisage a healthy competition in this area after the idea takes off on a full fledged basis.

Recently, Saeed Ahmad, Deputy Governor SBP chaired a meeting on the formulation of the group. Talking to the representatives of different stakeholders, he said “Adoption of a warehouse receipt financing system would facilitate development of efficient and accessible rural financial system. Development of physical trade and marketing system of commodities would improve performance of the agricultural sector. Financial institutions would find it profitable to lend money for the construction of new warehouses”.

This initiative offers tremendous opportunities to the companies involved in this trade around the globe. These entities can form joint ventures with Pakistani entrepreneurs by involving IFC; mobilize funds globally or by listing the companies at the local stock exchanges. Central bank already has a plan for extending soft-term loans for the construction of warehouses. Those interested in the construction of warehouses can also approach Pakistani banks enjoying a significantly large share in lending to farmers for inputs and developmental work.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Pakistan Saudi Arabia Economic Ties

Over the years Saudi Arabia has been extending extensive aid, grant and assistance to Pakistan, but economic cooperation between the two countries has remained far from satisfactory. Some of the critics applaud the brotherly attitude, but say that Saudi stance has been contrary to an old saying ‘don’t give me fish, but teach me how to catch a fish’. However, others say that since the cooperation has been between the two states the benefits have not trickled down to the masses. Therefore, there is a need to revisit the existing scenario and come up with a new strategy that should yield benefits to both the countries.
Pakistan’s economy comprises of agriculture, manufacturing and services sectors. Growth of all these sectors has remained skewed due to lack of planning and supporting policies, but above all inadequate availability of funds. To begin with agriculture in Pakistan contributes around 20 percent to GDP due to lower production and productivity. On top of that due to the limited availability of modern storage facilities and inefficient logistics about 15 percent of food grain and nearly 40 percent of fruits and vegetables goes stale before reaching the markets. Not only the growers are deprived of their legitimate return, the country is also deprived of earning millions of dollars by exporting these commodities.
Therefore, the first step is to save the produce by constructing modern warehouses and efficient logistic facilities. Saudi investors should be asked specifically to invest in these two key areas offering attractive returns. In the past effort was made to invite the foreign investors to come to Pakistan and initiate corporate farming. The basic idea was to attract foreign investment for undertaking mechanized farming, developing water courses and ensuring balanced use of fertilizers and timely application of pesticides. However, the proposal was resisted by feudal lords who claimed that this will ruin the small farmers. In fact the ‘absentee land lords’ know very well that once corporate farming commence in the country they will not be able to exploit the landless farmers.
Pakistan has a huge population of 200 million people, but does not have modern oil crude refineries in the country. A huge quantity of POL products has to be imported. Though, Saudi Arabia is one of the largest producers of crude oil, it is also a big importer the finished products. Saudi rulers can also follow a model used by the rulers of Abu Dhabi, of jointly owning with the Government of Pakistan the biggest refinery, Pak Arab Oil Refinery (PARCO) and two pipelines for the transmission of black and while oil products. Saudis have two options: 1) to establish another mid country refinery or 2) construct one near Port Qasim for exporting the refined products and saving the freight cost. Both the Pakistan and Saudi governments must also look at the successful operation of refineries in Singapore, a country that does not produce even a drop of crude oil. The two governments should also consider constructing ‘naphtha cracker’ in Pakistan. A huge quantity of naphtha is produced in the country, but the entire output is exported because of absence of naphtha cracking facility.
Pakistan is among the top producers of sugarcane and also has the capacity to produce 9 million tons sugar annually. Every year huge quantity of molasses is exported. Saudi investors should be encouraged to establish facilities for the production of E-10 (motor gasoline blended with ethanol). This is also to remind that local mills are operating at nearly 50 percent capacity due to the shortage of sugarcane. Enhanced sugarcane production will not only help in higher quantity of refined sugar but will also help in producing more ethanol and also producing electricity at the mills. Even today, these mills are capable of delivering 3,000MW electricity to the national grid. Since these mills are located in the rural areas, the availability of extra electricity will help not only in improving quality of life of the rural population, but also to contain migration of people to urban areas in search of job opportunities.
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is following ‘financial inclusion program’ because nearly 90 percent of the total population does not have a bank account. The recent initiative of ‘branchless banking’ is heavily dependent on technology and requires huge investment. Saudi investors may be invited to form joint ventures with the local entrepreneurs in banking and telecommunication which is the backbone of branchless banking. This is for the information of entrepreneurs from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that one of the major stakeholders of Meezan Bank is keen in selling its stake. Similarly, substantial investment is required in Bruj Bank to meet minimum capital requirement stipulated by the SBP.
Billions of dollars are required for revamping the existing infrastructure and construction of new facilities. It will be right to say that some Saudi investors should establish entities that can facilitate in floating and managing Sukuk. The experience of Soverign Ijarah Sukuk floated by the Government of Pakistan has been very successful. If the companies of international repute come to Pakistan and help in the flotation of Sukuk for the construction of hydel and thermal power plants, the requisite amounts can be mobilized without seeking the help of multilateral financial institutions.
Pakistan also enjoys huge potential for producing ‘Halal’ food items, which the Middle eastern countries are buying from non-Muslim countries. If they acquire stake in companies producing halal products they will be able to ensure quality as well as confirmation to the Sharaih standards.


Sunday, 4 May 2014

Pakistan: Preferred Investment Destination

Most of the local and foreign investors often fall prey to tinted media reports about Pakistan. They may also be fully aware that foreign media ignores positive news, but loves to give prominence to items that are not even newsworthy according to international reporting standards. In todays blog effort has been made to put the record straight. 

Many overseas analysts say that foreign investors prefer to stay away from Pakistan, which is not correct. If one looks at the history spread over more than six decades, any company that entered Pakistan never took an exit  due to security reasons or unfriendly working environment. Those who left Pakistan, the decisions were driven by their policies, either pulling out of that particular business or this particular region. Some of the congloramates like Abbott, Glaxosmithkline, Linde, ICI, Siemens, Racket Binkezer, Unilever, Pepsi, Coca Cola and Standard Chartered Bank have been doing thriving business and increasing their stake in Pakistan. Those who have a rather brief history are KFC, Mc Donald, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive and Gillette.

Pakistan enjoys a strategic location, enjoying common borders with China, (second largest economy of the world), India (third largest economy of the world), oil rich Iran, Afghanistan (gateway to energy rich Central Asian countries), more than 1,200 kilometers long coastline with three deep sea ports offering the shortest and most efficient transit facilities to Afganistan, Central Asian countries and even China. It will be correct to say that Pakistan is a natural trade and energy corridor.

Two of the proposed gas pipelines: 1) Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) and 2) Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) have to pass through Pakistan. These would not only help in earning millions of dollars as transit fee, but supply of gas to Pakistan will help in containing furnace oil import, an expensive fuel as compared to natural gas. 

Though, India is constructing Chabahar port in Iran and also linking it with central Asia by rail and road, it will be difficult to undermine the importance of Gwadar port and Pakistan. Keeping in view the success of (PARCO) Pak Arab Refinery (often termed mid-country refinery) some other Middle Eastern countries have shown keen interest in setting up three refineries near the coastline. First black and then white oil pipelines have been constructed that link PARCO with ports located in Karachi.

Those investors who decided to invest in Pakistan are fully aware of the real potential of the country. Some of these are: 1) market comprising of nearly 200 million people, 2) country enjoying ‘food security’, 3) having a vast cultivable area with world’s largest man-made irrigation system, 4) country among the top  producers of cotton, rice, sugarcane, wheat, milk and fruits like mango and kinnow (tangerine). 

Manufacturing sector, comprises of textiles and clothing units, sugar mills, fertilizer plants, automobile (four and two wheeler) assemblers, crude oil refineries, polyester staple fiber manufacturers, etc. Most of these industries have been operating below optimum capacity utilization due to failure to undertake timely BMR and shortage of electricity and gas.

In fact Pakistan has around 28,000MW power generation capacity, but output hovers around 16,000MW due to outdated power plants, also suffering from liquidity crunch which does not allow them to buy required quantity of fuel. Expolration and production companies face some difficulties in operating in Baluchistan and northern parts of Pakistan due to the ongoing war on terror, as militants hibernating in Afghanistan often indulge in cross border terrorism.

The average yield of major crops in Pakistan is low as compared to other countries located in the region, but the country has been a major exporter of textiles and clothing, rice, sugar and wheat. Nearly 15 percent of food cereals and 40 of fruits go stale before reaching the market because of inadequate storage and logistics. If modern storage facilities and farm to market transportation could be improved, not only the income of the farmers will be increased, but Pakistan would be able to earn more foreign exchange. Going for value addition will further increase the country’s exports.

If anyone foreign investor still has some doubts, he/she should approach the Overseas Chamber of Commerce and Investors (OCCI), American Business Council (ABC), German Business Forum.  The details may also be respective embassies and high commissions. Think about your business interest first and then about geopolitics. Is is not a fact that some of Fortune-500 companies are stronger than the governments of many Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries?